by Michelle Villanueva
Kiki's Delivery Service (or Majo no Takkyuubin in the original Japanese) is the story of a young witch who leaves home to start her magical training. Like other Hayao Miyazaki anime heroines (San of Princess Mononoke and Chihiro of Spirited Away), Kiki is independent and brave, but must still struggle to discover her place in the world.
Kiki has just turned 13 years old, the age when witches are meant to move into a city and help its people out using her magical skills. Kiki doesn't have her mother's talent for brewing medicinal potions, but she does have a certain amount of tenacity. Her only magical skill is being able to fly on a broom, and since she uses her mother's old broom, she's not even very good at flight. It's something all witches are supposed to be able to do, but Kiki figures out a way to make her broom-flying unique.
However, Kiki must overcome many obstacles on her way to becoming a full-fledged witch as well as being a productive member of her adopted town. She is challenged by the problems which plague many young teens: trying to fit in, wanting to belong to a peer group, and believing that no matter how hard you try, you'll never figure out your role in life. Kiki doesn't overcome these obstacles alone. She makes a handful of friends during her deliveries, and in the end, they finally help her realize her true value as a witch, and more importantly, as a person.
Kiki's Delivery Service was the first of Miyazaki's films to be distributed in the U.S. by Disney, perhaps because it was the most readily accessible story to American audiences. Unlike My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke (both set in a fairly recognizable Japan), Kiki's Delivery Service takes place in an imaginary quasi-European setting. The story, with its emphasis on independence and finding your way, is very understandable to Western viewers. Indeed, when Kiki was released on video, it became one of the top selling children's films of that year.
Now the movie is available, along with other Miyazaki films, on DVD. This two disc set, released in 2003, includes both the original Japanese soundtrack as well as the English dub Disney made in 1998. Unfortunately, unlike the release for Spirited Away, there is hardly enough material on the second disc to really warrant a two disc set. There are no in-depth making-of documentaries. In fact, the only making-of featurette is on the first disc, and only focusses on the creation of the Disney dub. The second disc contains the original storyboards for the movie, paired with either the Japanese or English soundtrack. This might be a welcome addition for the anime enthusiast or the Miyazaki fan, but for the casual viewer, one disc would have probably worked out just as well.
There is one minor quibble about the English subtitles for this film. It appears as if they just used the English dub script for the majority of the subtitles. As an avid watcher of subtitled anime, and as someone who has studied Japanese, I picked up on quite a few places where the subs just didn't match what was being said. Again, this is something rather minor and should not really detract from one's enjoyment of the film.
Which brings us to the subject of the English dub itself. The characters are quite well-matched to their voice actors for the most part. Kirsten Dunst is adequately perky as Kiki, and Phil Hartman plays sarcastic cat Jiji well. However, there has been some small dispute as to the character of Jiji. He's much more talkative in the English dub than he is in the Japanese original.
Another minor quibble is the introduction by John Lasseter which gets stuck at the beginning of the film every time one hits "play". Thankfully, this introduction, which isn't really needed for anyone who actually took the time and effort to *buy* the DVD, is easily skipped using the "next" button on one's remote.
Kiki's Delivery Service is a delightful coming-of-age film for young hearts and old. It's probably the most universally accessible of Miyazaki's films, and it can be a great "starter" anime film. For someone unfamiliar with anime as a genre, Kiki is a wonderful introduction to the storytelling and style of anime. Paired with a surprisingly good dub, the movie can be enjoyed by everyone. Despite the disappointing second disc, the movie itself is good enough to deserve a buy.